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Advent with St Anthony: Perseverance

22nd December, 2022

Advent With St Anthony: Perseverance

In this final Advent reflection, Gabriel Stirling looks at what St Anthony the Great can teach us about preserving in the faith.

‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see?’ – Gospel of St Matthew, 11.7

Advent will soon be over and Christmas will begin. As the Gloria returns to Mass, Christians across the globe will gather to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. 

At the same time, the change of the season brings to an end this series of blogs. 

We conclude with the death of St Anthony of Egypt. Aged 105 and having spent most of his life in the seclusion of the mountains, he left his monastery for one last time, heading to spend eternity with God.

Before his death, St Anthony spoke to his fellow monks, calling them to prepare “zealously” in hope of the return of Our Lord. Warning of “the treachery of the demons”, he nonetheless reassures them to “Fear them not, but rather ever breathe Christ, and trust Him.” 

St Anthony spoke from harsh experience. During the past few weeks, these blogs have delved into the spiritual torment which the monk endured at the hands of the Devil. In this 15th century Italian painting, St Anthony is shown being tempted by the promise of Gold. But trusting in God, St Anthony was delivered from the pit of sin.

As Christmas begins and passes, it might be easy to forget the lessons learned from Advent. But through the changing seasons, the message shown in the Holy Scriptures and by the lives of the Saints remains the same. The looming sense of preparation that defines Advent has value throughout our life.

Owing to this is the fact that we are in dire need of preparation. The threat of sin is one which we all face, a point graphically illustrated by St Anthony during the last few weeks. As St John puts it candidly in his First Epistle, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”

Yet we are not without hope. At Christmas, we celebrate the Nativity of the Incarnate Word and the hope which he brought into the world. This hope remains with us in the Church, which as the bride of Christ, prepares sinners to spend eternity with God. Her sacraments – and the Eucharist in particular – provide us with real hope that we might be reconciled to God.

Saint Anthony the Abbot Tempted by a Heap of Gold, Master of Osservanza

Therefore, the message of Advent is not a seasonal fixture that comes and goes like the latest TikTok trend. Our life forms its own extended Advent, a sense of constant preparation. This might seem a tall order. The world – and indeed our own lives – can feel irretrievably broken. But as one popular hymn reminds us, Christ offers us real hope of everlasting peace:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Wishing you all a warm and Holy Christmas.

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Blog Media

Advent with St Anthony: Penance

8th December 2022

Advent With St Anthony: Penance

The second post in a series of blogs by Gabriel Stirling exploring the relationship between penance and Advent

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ – Matthew 3:1-2 

Of all the Christian Feasts, it is Christmas that has become most embraced for materialist ends. In many shops, Christmas goods were out on the shelves before All Saints Day. But like a voice crying out in the desert, the Saints remind us to reclaim Advent in the name of penance. 

Penance is a big part of our Lenten preparations, but why should we embrace it ahead of Christmas? Should we not spend these next few weeks consuming material goods ahead of the big day, with moments of merriment intertwined? 

On the contrary, it is an essential part of our conversion and a fitting virtue for this liturgical season.

In last Sunday’s Gospel, St John the Baptist recalls the prophet Isaiah, who reminds his followers to “prepare the way for the Lord”. With Christ’s ministry imminent, it is possible to get a sense of the urgency with which St John the Baptist preached. This command stands for posterity, and in Advent, we are likewise called to prepare for the Kingdom of God. 

St Anthony of Egypt understood this urgency. Facing the torments of demons, he embraced a life devoted to fasting, prayer and poverty. The Egyptian hermit lived off bread, salt and water, sleeping on the bare floor. The demons could not cope with such devotion; they left St Anthony, recoiling in anguish.

Addressing his fellow monks, St Anthony reminded them that penance is an aid in spiritual combat against evil. “Demons”,  he states, “fear the fasting, the sleeplessness, the prayers, the meekness, the quietness, the contempt of money and vainglory, the humility, the love of the poor, the alms, the freedom from anger of the ascetics”.

Unable to stand against a truly penitent soul, the Evil One cries out in defeat.

Advent is partly about preparing us for Christmas. But look beyond the twelve days of Christmas and can see the eternity that awaits us in Heaven. The liturgy in Advent emphasises the return of Christ at the end of this world, encouraging us to think beyond our life on earth. Penance puts this anticipation into practice.

There is no obligation for penance during Advent. But the Church still recommends it as a way of preparing for Christmas. The Eastern Orthodox refer to Advent as the Nativity Fast, further emphasising these penitential themes. 

 

St Anthony’s dedication and faithfulness was extraordinary. But the lengths he went to should not discourage Christians. Not many of us will find our vocation as a hermit in the Egyptian wilderness. However, through penance, our souls are led away from evil and reconciled to God. 

The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Jan Wellens de Cock

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Blog Media

Advent with St Anthony of Egypt: Preparation

25th November 2022

Advent With St Anthony: Preparation

The first post in a series of blogs by Gabriel Stirling that will explore what lessons St Anthony of Egypt can teach us about the season of Advent.

‘Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’ – St Matthew, 24:44

During Advent, we are reminded not only of the Nativity in Bethlehem, but also of Christ’s Second Coming. This is a theme found throughout Sacred Scripture, as well as in the lives of the Saints. In particular, the life of the founder of monasticism, St Anthony of Egypt, offers us the chance to reflect on how we should prepare for the return of Our Lord.  

St Anthony was born in around 250 AD in Roman-ruled Egypt. A faithful believer from a young age, it was this devotion that made him a target for the Devil, who inflicted greater and greater torments on St Anthony. Not surrendering to the Evil One, he ventured into the tombs that inhabit the barren Egyptian landscape, to live a life dedicated to penance and solitude.

It was here in the barren wilderness that St Anthony entered into spiritual combat with the Devil. According to one account, he found himself subjected to the torments of demons who tried, but failed, to posess his body. The Devil tempted him with food and other material comforts, things that the hermit had surrendered.  But St Anthony was able to persevere in the face of these trials, strengthened through the grace of God. The demons eventually left him, defeated and demoralised. 

This retreat into the wilderness was not out of a desire for spiritual enlightenment or self-improvement. Instead, St Anthony saw it as a place of preparation before coming face to face with Christ. Speaking to his fellow monks, he said that that, by leading the contemplative life, they would be ‘ever striving and looking forward to the day of Judgment’. For St Anthony, the end goal of this ascetic life was to find his soul ready to meet with God.

St Anthony reminds us that the true focus of any Christian life should be one of preparation. In finding a place of relative peace, we can call upon God to help us with whatever spiritual trials that we face. Admittedly, finding a wilderness to prepare in is difficult when confronted with the noise of modern life. But quiet spaces still do exist, be it in praying the Rosary at home, visiting the Blessed Sacrament or attending a weekday Mass in church. In these moments, we surrender ourselves to God and receive a foretaste of the glory of Heaven.

The Tourment of St Anthony, a late-15th century painting attributed to Michelangelo

Advent offers us the chance to break the cycle of sin before the joyous festivities of Christmas. But perhaps more significantly, the life of St Anthony calls on us to prepare beyond Advent. Following his example, let us resolve to listen to God’s call and prepare our soul for the Kingdom of Christ.

Source: Life of St Anthony, St Athanasius/New Advent

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Praying with the Saints [retreats]

Retreats

Praying with the Saints

Running in April, June & October 2023

Weekend retreats themed around the lives & spirituality
of three great spiritual masters of the West

This series of retreats offers participants an opportunity to immerse themselves in the lives of some of the great saints of the Western Church, as a way of developing and nurturing their own lives of faith.

The retreats are preached by well-established speakers and authorities on the respective saints, so that participants will be accompanied closely by these much-loved saintly figures.

Each retreat is entirely standalone.

Each retreat will offer several talks over the weekend, framed by opportunities for Mass, communal prayer in the morning and evening, and Adoration.

Free time for walks and reflection is built into each retreat.

Retreat Master: St John of the Cross & St Teresa of Avila

Fr Matthew Blake is a Carmelite priest. Originally from Ireland, he has lived and worked  in the UK for more than thirty years. His ministry has mainly involved retreat direction, for which he is well-known in the UK, and he has also worked in many different parishes.

 

 

Retreat Master: St Ignatius of Loyola

Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ is currently Parish Priest of Farm Street in central London.  Farm Street Church, and the adjoining London Jesuit Centre, is a vibrant city centre ministry of the Jesuits, aiming to extend welcome and hospitality to many different groups.  Fr Dominic is also UK director of Landings, the programme for returning Catholics, teaches Theology at St Mary’s University, is Chair of Justice & Peace in the Diocese of Westminster and Ecclesiastical Assistant to the charity Aid to the Church in Need.

 

Retreat Master: St Therese of Lisieux

Canon John Urdis is Spiritual Director at St Mary’s College, Oscott, Birmingham. He has a Licence in Spirituality from the Dominican University in Rome.  He is the author of two books on St Therese: ‘Holy Daring’ and ‘The Gift of St Therese of Lisieux.’

 

 

Theodore House offers a wonderful venue for any residential course. The tranquil and beautiful surroundings of the Stonyhurst estate offer a peaceful setting with endless opportunities for walks. Guests will enjoy the comfortable recreational spaces and a beautifully lanscaped garden.

For more information about Theodore House, please click here.

  • Arrivals from 3pm for a 6pm start on Friday
  • Departures from 3pm on Sunday
Cost (per retreat)

Single room: £180 p.p.*

Twin room (sharing): £135 p.p.*

*Costs include full board from Friday dinner to Sunday lunch inclusive.

Please register below (includes £50 p.p. deposit payment):

Venue:

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Media Video

St Francis of Assisi

Saints, Scholars & Spiritual Masters #8 St Francis of Assisi

***The talks are made available freely with the request for a donation to support our costs.***

Please donate here:


St Francis of Assisi built the first crib on a hillside above Greccio, in the Rieti valley, Italy. His love for the mystery of God’s Incarnation spilt over into his radical choice of a life of poverty and prayer, following in the footsteps of his master, Jesus Christ. His profound and intense spiritual life powered a charismatic life of preaching. Fr Gabriel Kyte, of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, offers insights into the Christmas-orientated spirituality of this ever-popular saint.

About the speaker:

Fr Gabriel Kyte, CFR is a Canadian national and was ordained a priest at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in 2014.  He is a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and currently the Local Servant at St Pio Friary in Bradford.  He has a passion for Franciscan spirituality and uncovering it’s authentic roots in the character and life of St Francis.  His Master’s thesis was on the Mariology of Benedict XVI. For more information about the Friars at Bradford, click here.

Other videos in the series:

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Media Video

St Benedict of Nursia

Saints, Scholars & Spiritual Masters
#7 St Benedict of Nursia

***The talks are made available freely with the request for a donation to support our costs.***

Please donate here:


The seventh talk of Saints, Scholars and Spiritual Masters turns to the “Father of Western Monasticism” and his Rule of life, which  still guides religious life around the world 1,500 years later. Benedict fled Rome, with the degenerate and empty lifestyle that he found amongst his fellow students, to become a hermit in the hills outside the city. His saintliness soon attracted diverse followers, and set him on the path of establishing monastic communities and writing a Rule. Though these were not primarily centres of learning, Benedictine monasteries, and others following their example, became the repositories of learning and culture. Europe thus owes not only its monastic tradition to Benedict, but also the continuity of its development through the medieval era.

About the speaker:

Father Cassian Folsom, O.S.B., is the founding prior of the Monastery of San Benedetto, located in Norcia, Italy, the birthplace of Saint Benedict. He was born in Massachusetts in 1955, and has been a monk since 1979 and a priest since 1984. Fr. Cassian studied music before joining the monastic community of Saint Meinrad in 1974. He has served as the pro-president of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at Sant’ Anselmo from 1997 to 2000. He founded his monastic community in Rome in 1998 and transferred it to Norcia in the year 2000. Father Cassian has been a consulter to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments since 2010, and is the author of numerous studies on Roman Catholic liturgy.

Other videos in the series:

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Events Talks

Saints, Scholars and Spiritual Masters [online evening talk] – #8 St Francis of Assisi

Saints, Scholars & Spiritual Masters 8 - St Francis of Assisi
[online evening talk]

Thursday 10 December @7:30pm

God & the Crib:
St Francis & Greccio

Eighth of the online series: Saints, Scholars and Spiritual Masters

In the weeks before Christmas, the final talk of Saints, Scholars and Spiritual Masters appropriately turns to St Francis of Assisi, who built the first crib on a hillside above Greccio, in the Rieti valley, Italy. St Francis’ love for the mystery of God’s Incarnation spilt over into his radical choice of a life of poverty and prayer, following in the footsteps of his master, Jesus Christ. His profound and intense spiritual life powered a charismatic life of preaching. Fr Gabriel Kyte, of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, will offer insights into the Christmas-orientated spirituality of this ever-popular saint.

About the speaker:
This talk concludes the Saints, Scholars & Spiritual Masters series

For the flier, please click here

 

***Admission is free. We kindly request a donation to support the costs of our activities.***
Please register below:

 
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Media Video

The Spanish Mystics

Saints, Scholars & Spiritual Masters
#6 Saints Teresa of Avila & John of the Cross

***The talks are made available freely with the request for a donation to support our costs.***

Please donate here:


The sixth talk of Saints, Scholars and Spiritual Masters looks at two giants of the interior life: St Theresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. The profound mysticism of these two well-loved, Spanish saints did not detract from their pragmatic determinedness. Together, they reformed the Carmelite order in Spain, founding no less than 23 monasteries between them and effectively establishing the order of Discalced Carmelites. The hardships and difficulties they both endured in pursuing their vocation and in reforming their order were only met with a strength that was founded on their deep love for Christ, which was also the foundation of the great friendship between them.

About the speaker:

Fr Matthew Blake is a Carmelite priest. Originally from Ireland, he has lived and worked  in the UK for more than thirty years. His ministry has mainly involved retreat direction, for which he is well-known in the UK, and he has also worked in many different parishes.

 

Other videos in the series:

Categories
Events Talks

Saints, Scholars and Spiritual Masters [online evening talk] – #7 St Benedict of Norcia

Saints, Scholars & Spiritual Masters 7 - St Benedict of Norcia
[online evening talk]

Thursday 3 December @7:30pm

The Saviour of Europe:
St Benedict & Benedictine Spirituality

Seventh of the online series: Saints, Scholars and Spiritual Masters

The seventh talk of Saints, Scholars and Spiritual Masters turns to the “Father of Western Monasticism” and his Rule of life, which  still guides religious life around the world 1,500 years later. Benedict fled Rome, with the degenerate and empty lifestyle that he found amongst his fellow students, to become a hermit in the hills outside the city. His saintliness soon attracted diverse followers, and set him on the path of establishing monastic communities and writing a Rule. Though these were not primarily centres of learning, Benedictine monasteries, and others following their example, became the repositories of learning and culture. Europe thus owes not only its monastic tradition to Benedict, but also the continuity of its development through the medieval era.

About the speaker:
Next in the series:

10th December – St Francis of Assisi with Fr Gabriel Kyte, C.F.R.

For the flier, please click here

 

***Admission is free. We kindly request a donation to support the costs of our activities.***
Please register below:

 
Categories
Media Video

St Francis de Sales

Saints, Scholars & Spiritual Masters
#5 St Francis de Sales

***The talks are made available freely with the request for a donation to support our costs.***

Please donate here:


The fifth talk of Saints, Scholars and Spiritual Masters explores the spirituality of a great Bishop and director of souls: St Francis de Sales. Known for his deep love of God and his determination to bring every person – be they lay or religious – to a real holiness of life, he paid special attention to lay people living working lives. Much of his writing was directed to showing such people how to grow in holiness through their day-to-day activity. His fame as a spiritual director brought him into demand from Popes, royalty and nobility. Despite this, he lived out the last word of advice he gave from his deathbed: “humility”.

About the speaker:

Canon Scott Tanner is a priest of the Institute of Christ the King, Soverign Priest. After studying Theology and Religious Studies at Nottingham University, he studied for the priest at St Philip Neri Seminary, near Florence, Italy. He was ordained in 2015 and worked in the Diocese of Shrewsbury before joining the parish of St Walburge’s in Preston, Lancashire.

 

Other videos in the series: